For Alison Skertic, getting the COVID-19 vaccine was a decision she didn’t think twice about.
As a teacher at Merrillville High School, she says she wanted to not only protect herself, but also her students as well. Skertic, 56, also has pre-existing conditions, including asthma, that made her more prone to complications from the virus.
“It was very important for me to get it as soon as possible,” she said. "I also want to be able to see family again. I haven’t seen my siblings or my in-laws since last February.”
Skertic is one of thousands throughout the Region who have received COVID-19 vaccines. She got the two-dose Pfizer vaccine from Meijer in Highland, though residents can sign up to receive the vaccines at a variety of locations through the state’s COVID-19 dashboard — www.coronavirus.in.gov/vaccine.
As of March 29, more than 1 million Hoosiers have been fully vaccinated. This includes nearly 59,000 in Lake County, nearly 28,000 in Porter County and more than 17,000 in LaPorte County. Nearly 2.7 million first and second doses have been administered in Indiana.
In Will County, Ill., as of March 29, a little more than 96,000 have been fully vaccinated, with nearly 412,000 in Cook County (not including Chicago).
As of March 27, Methodist Hospitals had administered 29,992 vaccine doses, says Jackie Ivankovic, Methodist Hospitals director of pharmacy.
Northlake and Southlake vaccine clinics are giving the Pfizer vaccine now and the Schererville CareFirst clinic, which opened March 29, began giving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Currently, the hospital system is administering the Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson vaccines at its Northlake and Southlake campuses. A third clinic at the Methodist CareFirst facility in Schererville joined effort March 31.
“The State of Indiana has done a superb job communicating the changes as they are made, which helps the hospital to rapidly adapt,” she said of how to allocate the vaccine. “We are able to report that the vaccine administration process is operating smoothly at our clinics, and we are proud and grateful that we have the opportunity to provide this service to our communities.”
Chuck Hughes, president and CEO of the Gary Chamber of Commerce, was one of the individuals who received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine from the Northlake campus.
“I made the reservation in advance and supplied all my information in advance, so there were no delays or hiccups,” he said. “I was in and out in a matter of minutes, except for the time they tell you to wait afterward to make sure you are stable.”
Other than mild soreness at the injection site, Hughes said he experienced no side effects with either dose.
“When I talk about getting the vaccination, I’ve had people adamantly say they are not doing it for whatever reasons,” Hughes said. “I’ve had other people who have gotten theirs or they can’t wait to get it. As it relates to me, I’m a proponent of it and am encouraging people to get it.”
Yet the vaccine distribution at Methodist Hospitals and the story of one patient who has received it is just a small snapshot of what's going on in the Region.
As of March 23, Franciscan Alliance has administered 90,694 COVID-19 shots across five hospital clinic sites. Of those, nearly 50,000 are first doses of a two-dose regimen that is required with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
At Northwest Health-Porter, staff has administered X doses of the Pfizer vaccine and will soon begin offering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at its Chesterton location as well.
As of March 30, Community Hospital is averaging 744 Pfizer vaccines daily, as well as 294 Moderna or Pfizer vaccinations daily at the Community Stroke & Rehabilitation Center.
Besides hospitals, the state has allocated vaccines for use at clinics, pharmacies, health care providers, federally qualified health centers, community health centers and local health departments as well, says Megan Wade-Taxter, spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Health.
One of those locations is HealthLinc, which operates 11 community health clinics across northern Indiana.
As of March 27, the organization has given out more than 25,000 doses of Moderna and J&J vaccines, HealthLinc CEO Beth Wrobel said. Of these, 14,038 were the first dose of the Moderna vaccine, 8,050 were the second dose of the Moderna vaccine, and 3,088 were the one-dose J&J vaccine.
“We have developed an effective workflow process to track our efforts both in the clinics and out in the community,” said Wrobel. “It is important that we get as many people vaccinated as possible. HealthLinc has Moderna and J&J vaccines for anyone 18 years and older and appointments are available in all of our communities."
In Illinois, CVS Health has begun rolling out vaccines at its pharmacy locations. The national chain has also partnered with skilled nursing facilities, assisted living and other long-term care facilities in Indiana and Illinois. According to data provided by CVS, nearly 79,000 doses have been administered in skilled nursing facilities and nearly 55,000 doses in assisted living and other long-term care facilities in Illinois, not including Chicago.
In Indiana, CVS has administered nearly 64,000 doses in skilled nursing facilities and nearly 31,000 in assisted living and other long-term care facilities.
Elizabeth Clements, director of Community Hospital Pharmacy and of the vaccine clinics at the hospitals of Community Healthcare System, says Indiana handles the registration for the first doses of the vaccine. Because Pfizer and Moderna require second doses approximately three or four weeks after the first, respectively, the vaccination site typically schedules of the second dose.
“After receiving the vaccine, the individual is observed for any allergic response,” Clements said. “During that time, we schedule your next dose with us. You must get the same type of vaccine the second time as the first.”
Kathryn Marquez, an ultrasound technician on staff at the Community Stroke & Rehabilitation Center in Crown Point, received the first Moderna vaccine at the end of December and second dose at the end of January.
She says after her first vaccine, she experienced only a sore arm. After her second dose, she had mild flu-like symptoms that included body aches, chills and a low-grade fever for about 12 hours.
Marquez, 34, says she wanted the vaccine to minimize the chances that she could spread the virus and to reduce its severity should she contract it.
“It was important for me to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to help decrease the chances of spreading the virus to my family,” she said. “I am also able to provide a safer environment for my patients and myself while working.”
Though many facilities have been distributing the vaccine since the beginning of the year, some are developing procedures to distribute the vaccine to a greater number of individuals.
“Internal work is under way to develop processes to reach other populations internal and external to the hospitals, given the constraints of multidose vial packaging and expiration dates once vials are punctured,” said Jennifer Williams, system director transformation at Franciscan Alliance.
Williams says in the last few months, the processes from both the Indiana State Department of Health and Franciscan Alliance have improved.
“In my opinion, I am proud of the Hoosier vaccine roll-out plan, team and communications,” she said. “The plan has been solid and orderly from the beginning.”
As agents of the state, the hospital system has offered feedback to improve the scheduling and registration system, as well as provide input on adding 211 as a nontechnical access point and on expanding options to reach special populations.
“Internally, we used a system approach to align processes at our sites for safety, efficiency and variance detection,” Williams said. “Franciscan Alliance applied lean management principles to the clinic sites to make the process easy for both the customers and the staff. This gives us a way to constantly evaluate and improve.”
She says the actual distribution of the doses is the easy part.
“The process to support a massive effort vaccinating our communities and fulfilling our mission is what we had to build,” Williams said.
Though just one person, Hughes says getting the vaccine has made him feel like he is part of a greater effort.
“I have seen friends pass from the virus,” he said. “I’ve also spoken to friends who have suffered from it. They tell me it’s frightful, scary. It’s debilitating and it’s something they don’t want to encounter again. I decided to take it as the science suggests, and I didn’t need any more encouragement than that.”
“We have developed an effective workflow process to track our efforts both in the clinics and out in the community,” said Beth Wrobel, HealthLinc CEO. “It is important that we get as many people vaccinated as possible. HealthLinc has Moderna and J&J vaccines for anyone 18 years and older and appointments are available in all of our communities."